Fun times for McGinnes & company on March 17
By Fran Thompson
A bagpiping contingency led by the nephew (Neil McGinnes) of St. Patrick’’s Day Walking Parade grand marshall Bill McGinnes will lead the annual Gulf Shores St. Patrick’s Day Walking Parade, which will depart from the Papa Rocco’s deck at around 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, March 17 for an annual song filled stroll to various downtown Gulf Shores watering holes.
Sponsored by McGinnes, owner of Papa Rocco’s (one block north of the beach on Hwy. 59), the parade of pubs will also feature Kevin Wisehart, Michael Wood and James Stewart playing pipes when the time comes to call the troops together and move the party from Papa Rocco’s to The Flying Harpoon to Mudbugs to The Steamer to Desoto’s & Crazy Donut to The Hangout to The Pink Pony to Gulf Island Grille to Hooters.
The crawl ends around 2 p.m. at Mikee’s. But by then most of the crowd will have been left behind to eat a meal or sip an extra libation at one of the other stops.
The Dublin Down Irish Band will be at Papa Rocco’s from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. and The Hangout will have live music from three bands (Kilted Kings, Magic Johnsons and Pop Fiction) beginning at 10 a.m. Desoto’s will offer corned beef & cabbage on the menu that day.
“This started as a way to give the local restaurants a jump on the season,’’ McGinnes said. “It’s gotten a lot bigger since then. But I’m expecting the biggest crowd yet with it being on the weekend. I’ve already had a lot of calls.
“People come from all over Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Our snowbirds love it. And we get some spring breakers. We even have grandkids of some of the originals coming out with us,’’ McGinnes added.
Butch Nichols and Lindy Harris are the original parade flag carriers, a job they proudly held even before McGinnes took over as grand marshall in 1989. Others have picked up the flags in recent years.
McGinnes continues to proudly carry the lead stick and even applies for an official parade permit from Gulf Shores City Hall every year (ordinance 367. Section 5).
“We want to make sure the police know what we are doing. But we are not sure what we are doing besides having fun,’’ McGinnes said.
The Green Horde is easy to find, as The crowd takes over the grounds at every stop.
The 2019 parade will be the second since the passing of original parade bagpiper, Jocko McClain.
Jocko, who passed away in August of 2017 at his home in Canada, and his legacy as the parade’s pied piper goes back to the 1970’s.
His spirit will always be at the heart of the event and remains as much a part of the parade’s fabric as cold beer, green hats and Jameson’s, McGinnes said.
“We met at the American Legion and we immediately sat down and killed off a bottle of Irish whiskey between us,’’ McGinnes said. “We started talking about Scotland and The Rangers and it was like we had known each other for years.’’
McGinnes said he has learned to pace himself over the years.
“There were a couple of years when I hitched a ride back to Papa Roccos, but I don’t do that anymore,’’ he said.
Vince Murphy founded the walking parade and was first to carry the grand marshal baton, with Jocko beside him playing his pipes, in the mid-1970’s.
Murphy, who at that time owned The Pink Pony, passed the baton to local character John Kelliher, who led the swarm behind Jocko into Papa Rocco’s just after McGinnes opened his restaurant in 1984.
Kelliher, The Colonel to his friends, deemed McGinnes worthy of the grand marshal’s position in 1989.
Ron David has been gathering friends to participate in the parade for more than 20 years.
The Orange Beach resident, a retired Colonel with two tours of Vietnam behind him, parades with members of his carnival krewe, The Treasures of the Isle.
“It’s a great way to put on something green and march together and drink together with my TOI friends. “Bill does a great job. It brings in people from all over the world. It’s come a long way since we moved here, and it just keeps getting bigger,’’ David said.
Pictured: Scenes from the 2018 parade, including the grand marshall greeting his old friend Ron David.